Spc. Lisa Hayes, 32, of Rindge, left at 2 a.m. to drive to Fort Dix with her 7-year-old daughter, Brystal, said lawyer Linda Theroux, who represented Hayes in the custody case.
Hayes, who went on emergency leave from the Army in February after learning of possible domestic violence in her ex-husband's home, faces up to two years in military prison for staying in New Hampshire after her leave expired.
Although several military lawyers tried to help Hayes negotiate a deal for surrendering, the Army gave her no assurances she wouldn't be jailed immediately upon her arrival at Fort Dix in New Jersey, said Theroux. The Army was aware she would be bringing her daughter because Hayes did not have any family members who could care for her, she said.
"We did try to negotiate this for a favorable disposition, but the Iraq commander has been very uncooperative with some kind of favorable outcome, some kind of compassionate outcome," she said.
"I've been a very big supporter of our military and I'm just astounded," said Theroux, president of the Ladies' Auxiliary at Merrimack VFW Post 8641. "I considered the military to be very pro-family, and this has really not left a favorable impression in my mind."
Hayes was serving her second tour in Iraq when police in Dublin, N.H., told her they had twice gone to the home of her ex-husband, Tim Knight, on domestic violence calls. Knight had primary custody of Brystal.
In November, Knight's mother and his girlfriend, Brenda Brown, got into a fight, Hayes told the Concord Sunday Monitor.
In December, Brown was arrested on charges of simple assault, false imprisonment and criminal trespassing after Knight reported she had hit him in the head with a phone, knocked him down, duct-taped his wrists together and slammed his head on the floor, according to a police affidavit.
Hayes got leave from Iraq to attend a family court hearing at the end of February.
A marital master gave her temporary custody, finding that Knight's "use and abuse of alcohol" and a stormy relationship with Brown made his home an unsuitable environment for Brystal. The marital master ordered a fuller investigation by a court-appointed guardian.
Hayes' leave was extended twice, but it expired March 25. She tried, but failed, to get an extension, a hardship discharge or a transfer to New Hampshire. She was declared AWOL when she did not report for duty in Iraq, and 30 days later the desertion charge was filed.
"It's not fair to every other soldier if we give her special treatment," said Sgt. Michael Daigle, of the New Hampshire National Guard. "There are so many other soldiers at war that are single parents who came up with a responsible family care plan to take care of their children."
Hayes said she did not file a plan because she didn't have custody of Brystal. Her hopes of leaving the girl with a family friend in Rindge fell through after the friend had back surgery.
"I can't serve my country at my daughter's expense," Hayes told the Monitor.
Theroux said Hayes is planning to file a complaint against her commander in Iraq.